Cardinal Marx of Munich for “Intensive Further Thinking” about Women’s Ordination

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich, said this week that when Jesus called God “Father,” this was not to be understood in a gendered way (“geschlechtlich”). When asked about admitting women to ordained priesthood, he made reference to open questions when he responded, “I can understand that some do not understand something or the other.”

“Then we must keep thinking intensively about such things,” the Cardinal said. “Perhaps it is not yet the end of the path that we continue on with each other.”

The Cardinal made his comments at the first of a six-part series of talks on the Apostles’ Creed.

H/T: Kathweb.




  1. My desire around this issue is that there will be discussion. I never assume that women’s ordination some single solution to all church problems, but I often wonder what we miss by not talking about it.

  2. What we miss, Fran, is discovering that this problem has everything to do with the unjust divide between the baptized (men and women) and the ordained (men only). Those men have declared that all authority has been entrusted to them. End of conversation. Looks like “the church” will have to get much smaller before the guys notice that there’s something wrong. I can assure you that Cardinal Marx will be announcing within the next news cycle that his remarks were completely taken out of context and that “the church” has no authority whatsoever to ordain women to the priesthood. Wanna bet?

      1. @Daniel McKernan – comment #4:
        That is a *circular argument* that means nothing.

        Let’s see – in church history and tradition the apostles made decisions and acted on their belief that Jesus Christ had given them the authority and power to govern the church:
        – example: thus, Paul and the Jerusalem Council evangelized and welcomed Gentiles and ceased the Jewish proscriptions (no claims that their authority was limited)
        – councils have used their authority throughtout church history on issues just as significant as this issue (was Jesus both divine/human; sacraments; Modernism, etc.)

        As B16 stated:
        “In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church’s faith and a radical liberalism and the natural sciences, which also claimed to embrace with their knowledge the whole of reality to its limit, stubbornly proposing to make the “hypothesis of God” superfluous, had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age. Thus, it seemed that there was no longer any milieu open to a positive and fruitful understanding, and the rejection by those who felt they were the representatives of the modern era was also drastic.

        In the meantime, however, the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion; linked more generally to this was the problem of religious tolerance – a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions.

        In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.

        On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.

        Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change.”

        OTOH, as both noted theologians and canon lawyers said at the time of JPII’s statement, the statement is not infallible or a dogma. He and B16 may continue to try to *invent* a new category of *defined, magisterial, not to be discussed* but that feels more like a hermeneutic of rupture (not continuity). These experts agreed that ordination for women falls into the *contingent* category.

  3. Is it also not possible that they have declared that their authority is limited, without ever offering substantative arguments – I’ve never seen them – as a way of avoiding the issues? Does the appeal to tradition – particularly regarding women deacons, though there are other contentious issues re the Sacrament of Orders that one could mention – really stand up to close examination?

    1. @Brendan Kelleher svd – comment #5:
      I would say there have been substantive arguments, but that they have been narrow, in the sense that they have not engaged the fullness of theological issues. One that comes to mind is squaring it with implications of the incarnational theology of St Gregory Nanzianzus about that which Christ did not assume, he did not redeem, et cet. and how that relates to who can and cannot become an ikon of Christ. A conversation that would better be had within a Christianity more closely united East and West. (Eastern arguments about the ordination of women are rather differently couched, and not uniform, some of which might shock unaware Westerners.)

      A more practical issue is that Catholics are not ready to have a conversation about this, as we are only relatively recently (in full scale of Church history) readmitted to regular and frequent sacramental communion, and we’ve not yet fully worked through how that will flow through how an ordered but collegial communion talks among itself, as it were, rather than just up and down a structure that apes the structures of early modern nation states more than the more traditional structures in Christianity. Dealing with that precedes dealing with other things.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #6:
        I’ve said this before: go to the Greek Orthodox archdiocese of North America and find the Video tab. There has been for years an interview with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in which he says: if we are going to ordain only men, we must say why> And so far, in his opinion, the arguments for this are not solid. We have to think more deeply about it. He does not exactly say we should ordain women, but that the theology of why not is not good enough.

  4. The Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there was no scriptural reasons why women could not be made priests. The argument that only a man can represent Jesus as an icon seems to say that the important thing about him was his gender ….do all the fiathful of the church need to be female in order to correctly represent the “bride of Christ”?

    1. @Crystal Watson – comment #8:
      It seems to me that arguments about the unimportance of Jesus’ gender, and, therefore, of the gender of priests, rest ultimately on the contention that gender is not an important component of who and what we are as humans. It seems to me that this contention implies a sort of ‘uni-sex’ concept of humanity which conveniently serves feminist goals. I do not believe that Jesus’ gender was purely incidental. It was a defining factor of who and what he was/is. If there is purpose in all the wondrous workings of God, then there was purpose in this, and it is incumbent upon us to divine what that purpose and its contingent responsibilities are. The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity is a Son ‘begotten before all worlds’. He became incarnate as a Son. Those who would be ‘in persona Christi’ are sons. Daughters have different callings and different roles (which sons cannot fulfill). I would suggest that deeper realities related to this question would be revealed upon considering just what, after all, IS it that defines ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood’ in an ontological manner. Surely gender bestows far more that is inherent to these categories than is being considered in this argument?!

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #12:
        Your comment was making a worthwhile point, even if I am not in agreement with it, and then you say, “it seems to me that this contention implies a sort of ‘uni-sex’ concept of humanity which conveniently serves feminist goals.”

        I am trying really hard not to sound like an old crank, but I must admit to feeling somewhat disturbed at the tone of some of the comments. Allow me to state once more, with great clarity – I am not even advocating for women’s ordination, but rather for some forum for discussing the topic. So maybe it is just me, but when the men in the room (not all of you, thank God) remind the women in the room, of our shortcomings, physically, spiritually and ontologically, it gets a little tiresome for me.

        Is it so wrong to want to be part of an intelligent, thoughtful, spirit-filled conversation on this topic? The Cardinal has offered these words, “Then we must keep thinking intensively about such things.” Must every answer be no?

      2. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #13:
        Dear FRS –
        Thank you for your response and for your thoughts. Unfortunately it is very difficult in discussing this topic to avoid being taken as putting women down or disqualifying their intelligent propositions merely by disagreeing with them. That seems to be the ‘nature of the beast’. Can, on the other hand, a man sincerely hold to what he believes without being characterised as misogynist? Actually, I am really quite glad that this is not my decision to make.
        Respectfully yours –

      3. Fran Rossi Szpylczyn : Cardinal has offered these words, “Then we must keep thinking intensively about such things.” Must every answer be no?

        Off topic, but this reminds me of an episode of the TV series MASH. A patient, believing himself to be Jesus as a result of battle related mental illness, is asked if it is true that God answers every prayer.

        He answered that it is true. It is just that, sometimes, the answer is no.

        I have always thought that there is wisdom in that thought.

    2. @Crystal Watson – comment #8:
      Actually that is not quite accurate. What was released was an unauthorized draft document that stated you cannot use scripture alone to say that only men can be ordained.
      First of all, it was not formally released and two, the Catholic Church does not subscribe to Sola Scriptura for authentic faith.

      1. @Raymond Gueret – comment #63:

        Actually, the Pontifical Biblical Commission since the Council has only been advisory. Their conclusion is practically preordained, since it leaves the choice to the Pope, who in their eyes had an authority that they as advisors lacked.

  5. councils have used their authority throughtout church history on issues just as significant as this issue (was Jesus both divine/human; sacraments; Modernism, etc.)

    It’s not like the Vatican theologians never thought of this. They explictly mention it in Inter Insigniores:

    It has been noted, in our day especially, to what extent the Church is conscious of possessing a certain power over the sacraments, even though they were instituted by Christ. She has used this power down the centuries in order to determine their signs and the conditions of their administration: recent decisions of Popes Pius XII and Paul VI are proof of this. However, it must be emphasized that this power, which is a real one, has definite limits. As Pope Pius XII recalled: “The Church has no power over the substance of the sacraments, that is to say, over what Christ the Lord, as the sources of Revelation bear witness, determined should be maintained in the sacramental sign”. This was already the teaching of the Council of Trent, which declared: “In the Church there has always existed this power, that in the administration of the sacraments, provided that their substance remains unaltered, she can lay down or modify what she considers more fitting either for the benefit of those who receive them or for respect towards those same sacraments, according to varying circumstances, times or places”.

    I know Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is somewhat thinner on arguments; Inter Insigniores is not.

    OTOH, as both noted theologians and canon lawyers said at the time of JPII’s statement, the statement is not infallible or a dogma … These experts agreed that ordination for women falls into the *contingent* category.

    There were and are theologians and canon lawyers on both sides. To say anything else is a blatant “no true scotsman” argument.

  6. NT Wright

    Paul is clear (Galatians 3:27,28) there can be no division between male and female: both have put on Christ. Which of the baptised then can represent Christ in the ministerial orders of the church, can stand in the imago Christi? Can it be only men, or would that be to confuse the universal Christ with the Jesus of history? There is a strong argument to say that only a ministry open to both men and women can properly represent Christ, who became, in the words of the Nicene Creed, anthropos (human), not aner (male).

  7. M. Jackson Osborn : The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity is a Son ‘begotten before all worlds’. He became incarnate as a Son. Those who would be ‘in persona Christi’ are sons. Daughters have different callings and different roles (which sons cannot fulfill).

    As a Son begotten ‘before all worlds’ the Second Person of the Trinity was not begotten as a male. Some presentations of the Second Person were female, eg Sophia in Wisdom. Maleness is an aspect of his humanity, like his mortality, which does not describes his divine nature anymore than death does. This is something everyone should agree on not matter what side of the debate they are on. (though I have to say that when I hear people make this mistake I think that is a good reason to ordain women. There is no better way to correct this error.)

    And of course, that “Those who would be ‘in persona Christi’ are sons” is simply a reiteration that women cannot be ordained. It adds little to the discussion, beyond associating that notion with the questionable theological anthropology I mention in the previous paragraph.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #17:

      Error does not correct error. Moving on.

      I can accept God, in his divine nature, is not male or female. His oneness and incorporeal nature would make such distinctions a little silly if nothing else – What use sexual difference?

      But how can we ignore the incarnation?

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #18:

        Scott Smith : What use sexual difference?

        Sexual difference and sexual reproduction enhance genetic variability and the ability to evolve optimally — the reasons for the difference are found in evolutionary biology not in societal and cultural conventions.

    2. @Jim McKay – comment #17:
      How else can this be read than that the Second Person of the Trinity is begotten as male:
      I belive in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of light, very God of very God…begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made…… he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man…. (Anglican Use Translation)

      There is little if any distinction between the universal Christ and the historical Christ, since we know that they were God and Man in perfect unity, i.e., there was but one Christ who was God and Man in perfect union. So, far from confusing the universal and the historical Christ one quite orthodoxically recognises that, while in a manner they are discrete, they are in a manner a perfect unity. A theologian will state this better than I have done. It seems that you are looking for, even manufacturing, loopholes that have no tenable bases.

    3. @Jim McKay – comment #17:
      You mention Sophia in Wisdom as a female representation of Christ. This is common mistake for English speaking because most words don’t have a gender. In greek, Wisdom is “sophia” and the word wisdom is feminine in gender. It is also feminine in hebrew, latin, french, etc. Speaking of wisdom as feminine is simply by nature of the word wisdom in the language and not by nature of what it represents.

  8. This is like an itch that I cannot stop scratching. When I read no means no, when I read Jesus was a man, I feel such frustration.

    M. Osborne Jackson correctly notes that coming from men, this conversation may always sound misogynistic. As I note in my reply to him, language limps.

    And once again – I state this so that everyone is very clear about where I am coming from – I am not saying that we must ordain women. I *am* saying it feels completely wrong to not be able to discuss it as people engaged as church with one another. I have read the documents (take note Matthew Hazell, comment #20) numerous times, I have read many things, I have pondered and prayed and prayed and prayed.

    Regrettably, there seems to be little point, other than getting agitated, to this particular conversation. However, I will say this… I wonder how many of us are silent because, especially if you are ordained, you are not allowed to discuss this? That silence troubles me.

    1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #22:
      Fran – from a talk by Rolheiser and your wonderful statement….”I have pondered and prayed and prayed and prayed.”:

      “To ponder means to hold, carry, and transform tension so as not to give it back in kind. Ponder like Mary – not in the Greek sense of *an examined life* but something we must carry biblically like Mary. Let’s consider the opposite – *to be amazed* – in scripture only two people were not amazed; Mary and Jesus. Amazed merely means we do nothing. Ponder for Mary was taking energy to love, cry, and understand; for Jesus it was to sweat blood; to take hatred and transform it.”

      Is this papal nostrom an example of *ponder* or an example of *amazement* – thanks to J. McKay’s simple statement above.

  9. “Unfortunately it is very difficult in discussing this topic to avoid being taken as putting women down or disqualifying their intelligent propositions merely by disagreeing with them.”

    Perhaps those who find it difficult could take the opportunity not for a theological self-examination, but for a moral reflection.

    The gag order itself strikes me as a self-indulgent and convenient immorality.

  10. M. Jackson Osborn : There is little if any distinction between the universal Christ and the historical Christ, since we know that they were God and Man in perfect unity, i.e., there was but one Christ who was God and Man in perfect union. So, far from confusing the universal and the historical Christ one quite orthodoxically recognises that, while in a manner they are discrete, they are in a manner a perfect unity.

    Would you say God died on the cross?

  11. I believe that the Church’s thinking on this issue can, and just may, change when circumstances allow. For the longest time the Church held that slavery was morally neutral, allowable under the moral law. Then we changed our position 180 degrees, declaring that “as the Church has always taught” slavery was immoral without exception. Change comes slowly, but it has been known to happen.

  12. All of these theological arguments are grounded in the assumption that biological sex in humans is a true binary, that there are two and only two genetic possibilities: XX and XY AND that being XY always leads to looking “male”. But sex in humans is not a perfect binary (ask the Olympic committee), there are more possibilities than XX and XY and having genes that read XY does not necessarily imply looking “male”. (The gene SRY plays a key role here).

    I know Scripture reads “male and female He created them.” I also know that Scripture is neither a history text nor a biology text.

    I cannot help but think that theological arguments constructed around this artificial binary must in the end fall. You can fight gravity, but in the end, it will out.

    “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false. ” — St. Thomas Aquinas (De potentia 4,1)

    1. @Michelle Francl-Donnay – comment #29:
      You raise some cogent concerns. Christian charity would seem to invite earnest consideration of them (without necessarily a prejudiced outcome one way or the other). Without engaging in further argument, I would only invite some reflection and context on your very very apt quotation from Aquinas. Such as that our faith is replete with articles of belief and dogma which do not stand up to ‘scientific learning’ and ‘scientific scrutiny’: the Real and Objective Presence of Christ in ‘transubstantiated’ species, the virgin birth, the dual nature of Christ, the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, the bodily resurrection of the faithful, God himself, Infallibility, & cet. All these things and more are a ‘matter of ridicule among the infidels’. Empirical verifiablility and conformity to the known physical realities and laws of this world are not necessary factors in what we as Christians believe. If it were, we would have no Christian Faith. All would be the fables our detractors believe them to be. (No doubt, Aquinas would be able to reconcile this problem.)

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #30:
        Again, seems like good points but would suggest that you are mixing apples and oranges. If you study cosmology or theodicy, you discover the Thomistic proofs for God or divine action.
        If you read any of the past 50 years of debates about the existence of God and review works by geneticists, biologists, neurologists, astrophyscists, etc. we can simplify and state that there are two groups – those that deny any divine action and those who have spent their lives studying the complexities of life, the Big Bang theory, etc. and can only deduce that there must be a God. Ultimately, as Aquinas said, science can not prove faith.

        You provide a series of events – virgin birth, immaculate conception, nature of God, of Jesus, resurrection, that are about divine action. You can not scientifically prove these.

        The above point about the question of ordination of women mentions two areas that are different from your examples: questioning/discussing and arguments to prove your position.

        Ask the question – is there a God? ultimately, it comes down to faith because you are talking about divinity.

        Ask the question – can women be ordained? Depending upon how you answer, reasonable folks can question your response. It is not about the existence of God; thus,
        – scripturally – Pontifical Biblical Institute/theologians say you can’t use scripture to say yes or no
        – Tradition – this falls into the *contingent* area; we know throughout history that tradition has changed on various questions
        – gender – science/biology will significantly impact any response (thus, arguments that the church stated in medieval times, no longer resonate
        You could add innumerable more points.

        Not sure that today, folks would see women’s ordination in the same way as the virgin birth, immaculate conception. These two dogmas describe divine action in Mary. Is that the same as divine action in the sacrament of ordination and reserving that only to males? Isn’t the broader question about divine action first? To posit only male – aren’t you limiting God? And yes, it raises the connection between Jesus as priest and the sacrament of priesthood – wonder if the notion of *alter christus* makes a connection that historically was not there but happened over time – can’t that change over more time?

    2. @Michelle Francl-Donnay – comment #29:
      The issue of intersexuality is indeed not to be ignored. Fortunately, Genesis employs the conjunctive “and”. And we do not know how many intersexual persons became bishops over the milllennia….

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #32:

        And the basis for your last point is?? Otherwise, you are hitting at persons unknown who cannot defend themselves.

        But I remember reading somewhere that in the past candidates to Ordination could be subject to a physical examination in the event there is a doubt to their actual gender. I might have remembered wrongly, but it would be hardly surprising. The physical examination is still the first line of verifying a baby’s gender these days. It is only when there is a physical abnormality that other tests and theorising are done.

        So any chromosomally abnormal person would still have been man enough.

      2. @Simon Ho – comment #35:

        While I am here, let me say that I doubt KLS means to say anything that would offend or otherwise provoke defense. Rather he is raising the point that the idea of ‘male’ may have changed over the centuries, making problematic the assertion that only those considered male by 21st cent. standards have ever been ordained.

      3. @Jim McKay – comment #39:
        Thank you. I was mystified by the idea that I was impugning anyone by making the observation I made. Intersexuality is a regularly recurring reality; not only in the form of hermaphroditism as known and observed in the pre-modern era, but now we realize it has an even broader scope. It’s not “normal” but it’s nonetheless real. I imagine some of our readership might even be intersexual or have intersexual family members (even if they do not realize it themselves….)

      4. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #32:
        The portrayal in Wisdom goes beyond gender, as in Wisdom 8:2:

        [Wisdom] I loved and sought after from my youth;
        I sought to take her for my bride
        and was enamored of her beauty.

        Or you could look to Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of Constantinople, which is dedicated to the Second person of the Trinity but known as the shrine of Holy Wisdom.

    3. @Michelle Francl-Donnay – comment #29:


      I must respectfully disagree with you seriously for once. The starting basis for the point is that Science is somehow foundational.

      The biological definition of gender is something within the realm of Science and for Science to refine based on its empirical processes. Suffice to say that even today, the chromosomal configurations of XX(female) and XY(male) remain the norm in the population, and other chromosomal configurations are outside the norm. Modern medicine is generally more cautious about assigning a male or female genders to these, and some are calling these a third (albeit rare) gender because the world doesn’t quite like to hear the world “abnormal” these days.

      On the other hand, the reality of human beings as male and female is a theological truth that is elucidated by Science but does not stand or fall based on Science. This male-female distinction in human beings is part of God’s creation and provides the basis for the Church’s teachings that only men can be ordained to the Priesthood, that only women can be consecrated virgins and that marriage is a conjugal covenant between a man and a woman.

      If tomorrow, scientists realise that half of the men have XX chromosomal configurations, then it is the scientific conception that needs to be revised. Not the other way round!

      Your friend in SEAsia.

      (PS: I tried posting this earlier, but must have pushed the wrong button. If the moderator sees an earlier version, that is sufficient. Thanks!)

      1. @Simon Ho – comment #36:
        Simon, you are actually incorrect on a few points.

        “Abnormal” is correctly perceived as an insult in many quarters, even outside the “world.” With a language that provides a wide choice of words outside of the arena for slinging insults, it is incumbent upon people in the discussion to search for the correct word that communicates a non-fight. (Or perhaps I want to communicate a reality that combines disapproval and affection, if I were to characterize my brother, say, for being “abnormal” in his choice of a favorite athletic team.)

        Gender is a biological truth that impacts theology, but does not dictate theology. God made people outside of the realm of male-female as the majority commonly perceives it. It is a burden for believers to address this matter broadly in the realm of justice, and individually in the realm of discernment.

        To suggest that we redefine theology because the Earth orbits the sun was dismissed long ago. As we explore genetics more deeply, we adapt what we learn of God’s Creation to adjust the human tradition of theology accordingly. I suspect that there are no easy answers where the matters of sex, genetics, and ordination intersect. We shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed at that.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #40:

        My most touching moment to-date as a teacher is when I heard a 11 year old say that his serious heart condition limited a lot of life options for him, but despite his abnormality, he believed, as a Christian, that God has made him unique and this was what gave him strength to continue day after day. As the interviewer, I did not use the word abnormal as I was aware some people can take offence with it, but the child used it himself. Abnormal does not need to have a value judgement with it, which is when it can assume a disparaging meaning.

        The challenge in today’s world is that we have become so fixated on scientific knowledge that so much in the other spheres of human knowledge has been sidelined. Science, if you really look hard at it, is really far less certain and far more modest of its claims, and this is the really fun part in the scientific endeavour. So yes, science should inform theology, as should philosophy, anthropology and the other aspects of human knowledge. But science is not superior to theology, or philosophy etc. For Catholicism, theology must ultimately be grounded on Divine Revelation, not science, philosophy or the other sources of human knowledge.

      3. @Simon Ho – comment #35:
        “If tomorrow, scientists realise that half of the men have XX chromosomal configurations, then it is the scientific conception that needs to be revised. Not the other way round!”
        I must confess to being confused by this statement. Perhaps it would be helpful if Mr. (Fr., Dr.? ) Ho could be explicit about the criteria he uses to judge what constitutes men? Morphological features, levels of sex hormones, the ability to produce sperm, “masculine” personality characteristics? I believe the point Michelle is trying to make is that whatever you choose, there is no clear black/white dividing line. I agree with Michelle that arguments based on the increasingly porous definition of male/female must ultimately collapse. However, I’m sure those who seem utterly unable to consider the thought of women priests or deacons will come up with a new angle.

      4. @Juliana Boerio-Goates – comment #44:

        Human beings have been categorising themselves and their babies as male or female in human societies since time immemorial, with or without the benefit of science. Doctors and midwives don’t ask their patients or babies to complete a whole battery of tests before concluding if they are males or females except for exceptional cases. Perhaps I am assuming too much, but I doubt you would also ask a stranger to complete a list of items before deciding to address the stranger as a he or a she.

        As our scientific knowledge progresses, we come to learn, unlearn and relearn the simple or complex genetic bases that contribute to masculine and feminine physical, emotional, behavioural etc characteristics. But this progress does not call into question the reality that the vast majority of human beings are either male or female – some fall outside the norm and it is good that stigmatisation on these and their parents are gradually falling away, nevertheless, the existence of intersex persons do not affect what is the norm (Just in case anyone gets offended, I am not using the word “norm” here as a value judgement.)

        The Church teaches definitively that the Lord has so constituted the Church that only males can be ordained to the Episcopacy and the Priesthood. The Church leaves it to scientists to debate from their empirical observations whatever genetic bases there may be for the male-female distinction in humanity. Science informs, but cannot fundamentally alter this divinely willed male-female distinction – this is my contention with Michelle’s point.

  13. Perhaps I’m being nit-picky, but:
    1) The eternal Son is not eternally begotten as male, but does assume a male-human nature. Because he has assumed this male-human nature it is proper to speak of the Son as the subject of that maleness, and all the other acts/passions brought about in the course of his earthly life. It is proper in this regard to say that God (if we mean by the ambiguous term “God” the divine Son Incarnate, Jesus Christ) died on the Cross. Of course, the divine essence cannot die, not only for being the divine essence, but also for not being a subject.
    2) When the New Testament refers to Christians as sons of God, I think they are soteriological and trinitarian statements, not necessarily concerned with issues like holy orders being ‘in persona Christi,’ and gender/sex. As baptized, we’re all made co-heirs of the glory given by the Father to the Son (in the Spirit), and thru the sacraments participate in the Son’s glorification of the Father (in the Spirit). ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ in this respect denote a relation to the Father, not distinct vocations within the Church
    3) Now, it might be the case, that the combination of Jesus’ assumed maleness, which has not be abrogated, and his status as High Priest does mean that holy orders is restricted to men alone. What would need to be shown (and hasn’t so far as I know) is how his assumed human nature is complete so as to save all – men, women, and all those who don’t fit the binary – and yet excludes women from orders. I’m open to the argument if its out there.
    4) The contingency of tradition is not a barrier to something like this being definitive. Scripture too is “contingent” in the sense that it is shaped by its historical context(s) and does not give absolutes abstracted from history. More important for this discussion is that the topic doesn’t receive a whole lot of ‘serious’ discussion until quite recently. I think the Cardinal is dead-on accurate. Even if you’re against women’s ord. a thorough theological conversation…

  14. Brendan McInerny : Perhaps I’m being nit-picky, but: 1) The eternal Son is not eternally begotten as male, but does assume a male-human nature. Because he has assumed this male-human nature it is proper to speak of the Son as the subject of that maleness, and all the other acts/passions brought about in the course of his earthly life. It is proper in this regard to say that God (if we mean by the ambiguous term “God” the divine Son Incarnate, Jesus Christ) died on the Cross. Of course, the divine essence cannot die, not only for being the divine essence, but also for not being a subject. </blockquote>
    I agree entirely. The issue was argued extensively in the 5th century, with the Council of Chalcedon adopting the position taken by Leo I:

    Therefore in consequence of this unity of person which is to be understood in both natures , we read of the Son of Man also descending from heaven, when the Son of God took flesh from the Virgin who bore Him. And again the Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried, although it was not actually in His Divinity whereby the Only-begotten is co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father, but in His weak human nature that He suffered these things.

    One of the issues was maintaining that there are two natures in the one Person of Christ, not a single nature formed by annihilating one or the other nor a third kind of nature that merged the other two. Human things can be posited of Christ without making them divine.

  15. Here is a thought experiment:
    – for centuries, folks believed that the earth was the center of the universe. When science proved otherwise, theology or the institutional church was turned on its head. Suggest that this put a secondary structure (earth as center) above the fact that God is Love (to use John). (BTW – we continue that struggle today vis-a-vis creationism vs. evolution)
    – would suggest that we may have the same paradigm with the issue of women’s ordination. For some folks, the current structure is justified (using lots of different reasons) and they are convinced that this comes directly from God, Tradition, etc. Yet, if this human structure ever changes, will we repeat the Galileo theological/institutional struggle? It would appear that current justifications are secondary and above the fact that God is Love. Will our church/faith be turned upside down if current practice changes? If so, why? Does this change who God is, our relationship to the Trinity, who Jesus Christ is?

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #41:

      Bill, you can see a current paradigm shift in the last dozen notes here. SImon recognizes “the reality of human beings as male and female is a theological truth…” Others hold that gender is determined by observation, not revelation.

      These reflect different theologies. A platonic, or semi-platonic, view holds that there is an ideal that is expressed in each being. Alternatively, the world is full of beings that we categorize by our observations. This difference is not new, but the latter is closer to the perspective of evolution and science generally while the former is a more traditionalist perspective. The former holds to a view of God who completed creation in six days, while the latter envisions an infinitely creative God who persists in creating new things and people in infinite variety.

      No one holds either position in a pure form; the reality lies somewhere in between.

      1. @Jim McKay – comment #42:
        Furthermore, as human beings become much more numerous, the absolute number of people outside the first standard deviation, as it were, becomes all the greater. Moreover, as humanity becomes increasingly industrialized, urbanized and mobile/globalized, those “abnormal” folks are much more likely to affiliate and form groups based on newer affinities – it’s something one would naturally expect given that we are social creatures. Today, it is very much to be expected in the First World that one who feels marginalized will find ways to network with those who share affinities. This makes it more difficult for those comfortably in the center of the bell curve to reliably impose themselves as arbiters of normality.

        (In US history, for example, the vast conscription of the Civil War led to the lots of rural folk from all over the country getting quite mixed up with each other in ways they would have done had they been left on farms. The American phenomenon of urban gay subcultures dates from this, for example, and was reinforced by World War I and tremendously reinforced by World War II.)

      2. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #43:

        And add in the Internet, and people can connect with others who are like them across oceans. The problem is that people tend to congregate around websites that they agree with and throw in the problem of public opinion. We are definitely in one of the most polarised history of humanity on a global scale, and I wonder how to witness to the unity that Christ brings through his Death in such a polarised community.

  16. I’m only surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that the Church routinely ordains homosexual men to the priesthood, despite the fact that they are supposed to be “intrinsically disordered” if you believe the Catechism.

    This thread has kept moving away from the original topic, which was not about whether or not women can or should be ordained, but about whether or not we should be able to talk about the ordination of women, which is not the same thing at all. It seems quite clear that unless the topic is properly and seriously discussed in the Church we are not going to move any further towards achieving any kind of consensus.

    Simply saying “We have no authority to do this and therefore you may not even think about it, let alone debate it” is no kind of argument — indeed, it indicates nothing less than fear of undertaking a proper discussion, a stance which we associate more commonly with totalitarian regimes.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #48:

      This thread has not moved away from the original topic as uncover some of the issues that will be discussed if women are ordained.
      How does sexuality affect ordination?
      Are there only two genders? Is this a theological or scientific truth?
      How is priesthood different from royalty and other secular offices that employ women?

      There are many more issues like these that need some clarification before the ordination of women is acceptable to everyone, or rejected by everyone. So discussing these is an answer to the removal of OW from the discussion.

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #48: It seems quite clear that unless the topic is properly and seriously discussed in the Church we are not going to move any further towards achieving any kind of consensus.

      Mr Inwood, some members of the Church have spent most of the years since Vatican II discussing this. The footnotes in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis point one towards Inter Insigniores and Mulieris Dignitatem. Reams of books have been written on the subject by all sides. Many small dissenting groups such as CWO and RCWP exist in spite of what you label as the Church’s “totalitarian” position. And after all this discussion, after all the words and arguments, the answer to whether women can be ordained is “no”.

      I get the feeling sometimes that the only sort of consensus acceptable to some who are pro-women’s ordination is a consensus that agrees with them.

    3. @Paul Inwood – comment #48:
      I’ve been avoiding coming back and saying anything further, but I am grateful for your point about how we got off topic. The idea that there can be no discussion, as you succinctly say in your last paragraph, is what causes the most trouble for me.

  17. “I’m only surprised that no one has mentioned the fact that the Church routinely ordains homosexual men to the priesthood…”

    As with many things, I’m genuinely ignorant here. How is this known? Is it just common knowledge among clergy? Among lay persons who spend a lot of time with clergy in the various functions of parish life? Any comments would be welcome. The only priest I’ve ever known personally was the man who taught me catechism and confirmed me on a glorious Pentecost Sunday 35 years ago. He was gay.

    1. @Mark Emery – comment #49:
      Much but not all our knowledge of ordination of homosexuals to priesthood is anecdotal; the studies are by nature inexact. So we don’t have exact information, but the information we have all points in the same direction: the proportion of homosexual men in the Catholic clergy is high. In “Changing Face of the Priesthood,” Donald Cozzens cites several authorities with estimates between 20% (an outlier) and 60%, and some outlying claims that it’s much higher. There is much anecdotal evidence (I have some) that homosexual are still being ordained. Several people who work in diocesan seminaries have told me that they have reason to suspect many seminarians are secretly homosexual (“closeted”), which is just what I would expect to happen when it is (more or less) forbidden to have a homosexual orientation.

    2. @Mark Emery – comment #49:

      My point was that if the Church can ordain people (i.e. gay men) who do not fit into their preferred pattern without batting an eyelid, then they can scarcely maintain an argument for not ordaining another class of people (i.e. women) who do not fit in either.

      And yes, from years of experience and from what many priests have confided to me, I would say that gay priests could amount to 50% of the total, if not rather more. And the Church would be the poorer without them. They are gifted, creative people, and many are excellent pastors.

      We need people in the priesthood who have pastoral gifts, no matter what orientation they possess and, I believe, no matter what gender they appear to be.

      I would add that the seminary system is in a very dangerously dysfunctional state. On the one hand, they tell students that they will be expelled if they openly admit that they are gay. That is equivalent to asking a large percentage of students to lie if they want to proceed to ordination. On the other hand, they know very well that many of their students are gay but are not admitting to it, and they turn a blind eye to it. The fact that those students are gay is very evident to anyone who teaches them and is in daily contact with them, and yet no one mentions it. This is collusion on a grand scale.

      And the ones who suffer are the really honest ones who know that they are gay, who cannot bear to lie and so admit it, and who are then thrown out. They are not the only ones to suffer, of course. We all suffer because we have effectively jettisoned many men who would have made brilliant pastors, just for the sake of a principle which many people are bypassing by being less than open. This is, of course, only one principle which is denying the Church the pastors that it needs. We all know the other principles.

      The outcome is that the Church is increasingly ordaining people who are less than open, who are repressed, and who then manifest the results of this in ways with which we are, alas, only too familiar. We need to find ways of enabling people to be fully human in their ministry, without having to pretend to be something that they aren’t.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #52:
        To add to Paul’s very astute comment:

        It seems obvious, if you think about it, that you can only ban open homosexuals, you can’t ban secret ones because you aren’t sure of it (however strong your hunches). Therefore, the official policy now is, in effect: We will not allow open homosexuals, we will only allow secret ones. That is to say, we can assure everyone that all the homosexuals now are closeted (and probably troubled at least to some extent because of this). Folks, we have a problem.

        Recently a youngish priest told me that he wondered whether this insane, immoral, and hurtful policy wasn’t accepted by bishops, or at least not openly challenged by any of them, because the whole topic hits too close to home for too many of them. I have no way of knowing whether that is the case, but I think it’s an important question.


  18. Thanks to both of you for your candid replies.

    I’ve been curious about this for years, but as a very average layman I’ve wondered -“whom to ask?”. It saddens me to read that “the seminary system is in a very dangerously dysfunctional state”; and it saddens me even more that we are losing potentially brilliant and caring pastors because they are homosexuals. I pray they are finding other meaningful ways to serve God in the Church.

    I suppose we all know gays who are devout Catholics. I know I do. They are all laypersons. They are serious disciples of Jesus, and love the Church. They are silent, of course, about their sexual orientation, and in my experience at the parish level there seems to be a tacit “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy or rather attitude, which, of course, doesn’t apply among friends.

    This is a very painful thing, isn’t it? I hope and pray it can be discussed more openly, and especially that this crushing ordeal that many seminarians experience can somehow be alleviated.

    I will find and read the recommended literature and whatever else I can find on the subject so as to be better informed.

    Thanks again.

  19. Men make better political leaders than women is an item in the World Values Study that correlates most highly (-.86) with the Self Expressive Values of the post-industrial phrase of economic development (which are different from the Secular Values promoted by the industrial phrase).

    Self Expressive Values (but not Secular Values) have come to dominate American Culture since the sixties and with them the increased participation of women in all aspects of organization leadership.

    The phenomena is economically driven rather than culturally driven. Feminists and anti-feminists (e.g. Cardinal Ratzinger LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE COLLABORATION OF MEN AND WOMEN IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD) are wrong to attribute much power to these ideas.

    In the 1970s as a college professor I counseled bright young women to be doctors and psychologists and not so bright young men to be social workers rather than psychologists. At the end of one such conversation, a very bright young women who wanted to be a nurse said “You sound just like my father and my boy friend.”

    Many fathers, boy friends, and male college professors were seeing all the economic and social benefits of having talented women in a work force that needed their talents. The feminist literature of the time helped them make a social and economic decision that was not always that easy (e.g. medical school versus nursing school).

    On the theoretical side the strong relationship of this question to economics suggests that B16’s views on this subject come from a cultural and economic situation of survival in which men were seen as the natural leaders. Those views often used anatomy and physiology as a justification.

    On the practical side since values about male leadership only disappear in the post industrial phrase of economic development, it is not wise to impose these post-industrial values upon Catholics who live in less economically developed countries. Our first priority should be to help them develop economically. When they do, they will decide they want women priests just as Americans have over the past several decades.

  20. The problem for the Curia is that, at least in the developed world, people have come to learn (through bitter experience, sad to say) that any social organism that says “you can’t discuss X without becoming disloyal” is a red flag for dysfunction that cannot be morally cooperated with.

  21. Mr. Emery – anything at will provide education and background.
    Good link:

    As Fr. Ruff stated, any book by Rev. Donald Cozzens is excellent. Unfortunately, formation directors are currently in a very difficult situation given Rome and reality.
    Have any number of friends who are excellent priests and have been for 35+ years and who are gay.

  22. John Paul II wrote: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

    So my question was whether the Pope, in declaring the Church has no authority, has the authority to say whom (we) the Church can ordain.

    The underlying question is if authority is limited, what are its limitations. If Papal authority is unlimited, I can understand this as an exercise of that authority. But if authority is limited, I feel like we have to clarify what the limits are.

    Some of this comes from the indirect nature of the authority here. Women cannot be ordained because of the ordinary magisterium’s decision, which we know definitively through this act of papal teaching. is that within the scope of papal authority?

  23. There was a great deal of discussion on this and from many quarters of the Church both clergy and laity especially throughout the 70’s and 80’s. I honestly thought at the time of my ordination that certainly by the 21st century there would be women priests and that I had to prepare my parishioners for it. Our diocese in the 1970’s actually had two women in the seminary at Catholic University so that when the change came, they’d be ready for ordination. Of course the discussion at that time revolved around a reorientation of not only what the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is, but by implication also a reorientation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In that theological construct it made sense that women could be ordained.
    However, times have changed and the discussion that we once had and with great gusto has moved in a new direction, one of continuity with how we understand the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist, the nature of the Risen and Glorified Christ as both High Priest and Bridegroom. Within this theology of continuity the implications of this for the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the sacramental character of the “corporality” of the “substance” used (the man) to show for the hidden reality of the Glorified and Risen Christ who is still the High Priest and Bridegroom of the Church, through the sign of the ordained man, although veiled, shows Christ the High Priest and Bridegroom forth especially in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and which also shows forth His Bride at the same time. It seems to me that discussion on this renewed emphasis on continuity should also be had and without recriminations.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #62:
      One difficulty I find is to recognize the continuity around which Allan thinks such a renewed emphasis could be discussed. Just prior to Vatican 2 and the opening of the church to the modern world, we were still in very large part in a socially conservative era, where participation of women in ever wider roles was in progress but as yet having far to go. Increasing support for women’s ordination has developed since then with a sense of relief that the equal treatment of all people which Jesus modelled is at last coming closer to being matched at least by society’s increasing respect for women’s gifts and abilities. While theologians were no doubt considering these issues, in the wider world I did not hear the maleness of the priesthood being discussed. As a small child, I asked my father why there were no women priests – no doubt searching for some kind of response to a question which evidently did not have an obvious answer, he told me that whereas a woman priest could become pregnant and hence cause a scandal for the church, a man priest could not get into this situation! Although I read quite a few traditional books at that time, they did not contain any reference to a connection made between the sex of a priest and the bridegroom discourse itself, which I do remember reading about.

  24. Mr. deHaas, thank you very much for the references. I will certainly follow up by reading everything I can. I think this situation as described by Mr. Inwood and Father Ruff is sad -where priests and seminarians have to hide who they are in order to fulfill their vocations. It has to be a very lonely and difficult path. I will pray that the Church will find a way to make this right for them, where they can serve God and the Church openly as who they are, joyfully, and without fear of recrimination.

    1. @William Ferraro – comment #66:
      The fact that Mr Kreeft’s link betrays a lack of basic vocabulary of Christian ministry, I’m afraid his audio has little credibility in serious scholarly circles from the start. It’s about the same level of discussion as calling Fr McDonald a male priestess.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #67:
        Of course in my parish I do have a female “priestess” her term not mine, who attends Mass every Sunday in a chasuble and stole, usually the wrong color which really raises my blood pressure. Although she has not gone through any ordination ceremony, licit or illicit as far as I know, she feels God has ordained her and gets angry with me that I won’t allow her to concelebrate the Mass or read the Gospel or preach the message. However, she always acquiesces to my “no” and never becomes belligerent or defiant, except for the wearing of the chasuble and stole in the wrong liturgical color as street clothes and saying the Eucharistic Prayer outloud from her place in the congregation which some have said annoys them. She is highly functional and I’m not sure there is a complete break with reality just a bit of eccentricity or perhaps Christ in disguise?

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #68:
        Fr Allan, we have a man who attends our 1100 Latin (Novus Ordo) Mass in the full regalia of an ultra-orthodox Jew at prayer — prayer shawl, phylacteries, etc.

        He rises for the first reading and psalm and sits for the second two readings. Makes sense, I guess.

        We have another who turns up dressed as a cardinal. Occasionally we get both at the same Mass. Both are more than welcome. Christ in our midst? No doubt of it.

      3. @Jonathan Day – comment #71:
        He is probably a Hebrew Catholic. There are thousands of Jews who converted to Catholicism and they keep some of their Jewish heritage but are practicing baptized Catholics…. Don’t know about the Cardinal…

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #67:

        Peter Kreeft’s blast at “priestesses” is one of the shoddiest pieces of argument I have ever encountered.

        It is an extended petitio principii, begging the question, arguing in circles. He parrots CS Lewis but ignores one of his better essays, a deconstruction of what Lewis calls “Bulverism”: assuming the truth of your argument and then coming up with a diagnosis of anyone who disagrees, a diagnosis that has nothing whatsoever to do with the argument. This is Kreeft’s dominant move; his second is crude sarcasm.

        He begins by mischaracterising the case for women’s ordination, then presents a specious analysis of why people advocate it. Then, he presents an “argument” in four parts. First, because Roma locuta est. Second, because “priestesses” interfere with natural symbolism. I will come back to this one. Third, because of practical issues: harmony with the Orthodox, internal issues such as the Anglicans have experienced, etc.

        And fourth, because those who advocate women’s ordination are evil, and therefore it is wrong. Here is how he speaks of them – I am not making this up:

        Anyone who can’t see through these spies’ tissue paper-thin cover of Catholicism is a fool. … This sentence will make some people extremely angry, but it is true. It will make people angry because it is true. [rallentando] Look at their faces. [dramatic pause] You can see the hate, the hardness and the hurt.”

        Given that he accepted the challenge to defend “the Church’s position”, the first argument, from authority, is out of place. The third is well known. The fourth is a double Bulverism – “they are wrong because they are evil and if you disagree then you are evil”.

        It is the second argument, from symbolism, that might have shed some light on the matter. But here he makes wild assertions about things like language, physics, and the history of religions. As just one example amongst many: “English is almost the only language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns.” Well, actually, no. Wikipedia says that three quarters of the world’s languages do not have grammatical gender, and that for much of its history English did. The authors cite Corbett, Gender (1991, Cambridge University Press), which I have not consulted. But I doubt they are directionally wrong.

        I would be inclined to have more tolerance for his many errors of fact and logic, if the speech had not been delivered in a sneering, triumphalist tone, playing to an audience that regularly erupted in cheers.

        There may be a case to be made against women’s ordination, but he signally fails to make it.

  25. Father Allen, that’s totally cool that you don’t put up a fuss about this gal “con-celebrating the Mass from the pews” (so to speak) in wrong-colored vestments. From reading your blog, I never would have guessed you had that side to you. Indeed, the birds of the air come from everywhere to nest in the sprawling branches. (Maybe to help your blood pressure you could loan her some old chasubles and stoles of the proper liturgical colors?) Btw, there were no pink vestments at the Mass I attended yesterday; and I sure did like the ones displayed in the pic on your blog.

    1. @Mark Emery – comment #73:
      I’ve been in downtown parishes for 27 of my 33 years of ordination–it’s fun and I’m convinced that the double spires of the parish churches I’ve been assigned to have some effect in sending out signals to all the glorious downtown people we attract! And also keep in mind that blogs present only one dimension of a person and God knows that I pray that is the case when I read some of the posts and comments here! 🙂

  26. I would love to see a Hebrew Catholic at Mass in the “full regalia” described by Mr. Day. I didn’t even know there was such a thing; will have to look them up and do some research. As for cardinals, plenty of them come to my back yard bird feeder every morning. Put out the right kind of seed and you can’t scare them away with a broom.

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